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Full text of "Frederick Sommer: an Exhibition of Photographs at Philadelphia College of Art, November 1 through November 30, 1968"

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In organizing and presenting this exiiibition of tine photographs of Frederick Sonnmer, the 
Philadelphia College of Art is acting in accord with its clearly established purposes— to 
sustain and encourage the creative processes of artists, whatever the materials or tools 
they may find are best for their purposes. That photography is a major concern of the 
College is ample recognition that in the hands of an artist, the camera is a tool as right 
and effective as brush or chisel. Sol Mednick, director of the Department of Photography 
and Film of the College, has organized this exhibition to honor the artist Frederick 
Sommer and bring his works to our attention. In doing so, he has also expressed the 
commitment of his department and its faculty to photography as high art. ■ The College 
is most grateful to Gerald Nordland, Director of the San Francisco Museum of Art, for his 
enthusiasm and encouragement, and in particular for the perceptive essay, the chro- 
nology of the artist, and the bibliography he has contributed to this catalog. ■ Grateful 
acknowledgement is made to The Pasadena Art Museum and its director, James T. Deme- 
trion, for extensive loans generously made to the exhibition. ■ Particular thanks are 
extended to the artist, whose wholehearted cooperation and generosity in lending from 
his collection has made the exhibition possible. ■ The College finds itself again, as it 
has often in the past, indebted to its design consultant, Richard Hood, for his skill, here 
applied so effectively to the form of this catalog. 

George D. Culler, President 

Paint on Cellophane 1957 


Arizona Landscape 1943 

"A man is stymied if he tries to edit life. He must accept life in its entirety. A suicide 
interrupts a chiain, interfering withi consequences and responsibilities." Frederick Sommer 

Frederick Sommer was born in Italy to a German father and a Swiss mother, was brought 
up in Brazil, close to his father's landscape architectural practice. As early as eleven he 
was doing architectural drafting for his father. By the time he was sixteen he had carried 
off second prize in a competition for a park and recreation area for the city of Rio de 
Janeiro in competition with top professionals. In 1925, on a trip to the United States, an 
opportunity to work with a distinguished landscape architect at Cornell University led 
ultimately to the Degree of Master of Landscape Architecture from that school in 1927. At 
the same time he was studying city and regional planning. ■ For three years (1927-30) 
Sommer practiced architecture and city planning in Brazil, but was interrupted in his 
practice when he contracted tuberculosis. Removed from the practice of his profession, 
but in possession of a brilliant and restless mind, the young man turned to other arts, to 
poetry, painting, drawing, calligraphy, music and photography, only to discover an even 
stronger vocation. ■ During his college years Sommer had painted. Afterwards he drew 
in relation to landscape and architectural problems on which he was working. Once 
grounded in Arizona (toward the end of 1931) Sommer began to study modern art. He 
found that architecture had been a good preparation for seeing and understanding the 
modern masters. "Architecture dealt with structural laws of design." Sommer began paint- 
ing and drawing, seeking the elements of art. For a period he worked in geometric fashion, 
admiring Cezanne and Picasso. He sought the most personal and direct ways with which 
to deal with fundamentals. His watercolors of the period tended to emphasize structural, 
architectonic composition, with desert tones of buff and pink, yellows and occasional cool 
colors. In 1934 he held his first one-man exhibition at the Increase Robinson Gallery, Chi- 
cago, arranged during a visit the prior year. ■ In 1935 Sommer established his home in 
Prescott, and later visited New York for a period, spending a week with Alfred Stieglitz. 
He responded strongly to Stieglitz, feeling "he was an international type," and sensing that 
they had much in common, including an awareness of current directions in European art 
and intellectual life that was not shared widely in the United States. Stieglitz responded 
with encouragement to the watercolors (which reflected ideas related to Demuth, Marin, 
Dove and O'Keeffe, even Kandinsky) and showed Sommer many things in painting that 
renewed his confidence. At the same time Stieglitz's leadership in photography was not 
lost on Sommer who found his own interest in photography strengthened. It was probably 
out of this encounter that he gave photography the opportunity to be judged alongside 
painting and drawing. Later he was able to decide that it was equally valid to work in 
photography and that anything he chose to do could be realized in that medium. Admira- 
tion for Stieglitz as a man attracted him, but admiration for Stieglitz as an artist confirmed 
him, and he continued to move away from painting and drawing, although this grounding 
and experience had a great and enduring effect on his seeing and his art, even until today. 

■ In 1936, Sommer visited California and met Edward Weston in Santa Monica. Weston's 
photography was a revelation to Sommer which tended to confirm a direction that was 
already taking shape in his art. The example of Weston, his equipment, and his attitude 
couldn't help from having an influence. He was continuing to paint and, as a result of the 
California trip, he held a one-man show of watercolors at the Howard Putzel Gallery in 
Hollywood in 1937. Over the years Sommer and Weston exchanged works of art and 
Sommer has an extensive collection of the master's work, representing a high standard 
of seeing, and of print making. Sommer has written of Weston: ". . . whose decisive and 
sensuous use of the tone scale had given his photographic surfaces an impact new to art." 

■ In 1938 Sommer purchased new photographic equipment and began making 8 x 10 
photographs. For ten years his photo art developed parallel with his painting, with heavy 
emphasis on the life of his high desert world. The incidents, events and landscape of 
Prescott's surroundings became objects of close study even as his painting remained 
international and non-referential in style and attitude. Portraits, desert climate textures, 
the "chicken guts" discoveries, ultimately the bizarre Arizona landscapes to which Soby 

has referred, the junkyards, dead animals, discarded records of man's invasion of the 
peculiar savage beauty and integrity of the desert became his pictorial concern. ■ While 
in New York in August and September of 1940, Sommer met Charles Sheeler, another 
major figure in photography, and was impressed with ". . . (his) elegant economy (which) 
produces beautiful paintings and photographs that are not ashamed of each other." The 
following year Sommer encountered Max Ernst, the leading Surrealist painter and sculptor. 
Later Ernst settled in Sedona, Arizona, where the two men made a firm and mutually 
gratifying friendship. Like others of his generation Sommer had been intrigued by Sur- 
realism and was already devoted to the possibilities of the automatic and the accidental 
when he first met Ernst. The example and the inspiration of the Surrealists and the personal 
interaction with Max Ernst doubtless confirmed Sommer in many of his lyrical and imagi- 
native conceptions. ■ It was in the early years of his photographic practice that Sommer 
came upon the knowledge that ". . . photography is an acceptance of the landscape, 
which exists for itself." The earliest photographs have this objectivity, this acceptance, 
this matter-of-factness despite the marvel, wonder or horror that may be carried in the 
embryo-chicken, the assholes of eight young roosters, or the portrait of an artificial leg 
found abandoned on a junk pile. The photographer has learned to deal with what he has, 
to face it for what it is, and to render it in its own environment with dignity and serious- 
ness. Another artist would have found nothing to picture. Sommer has found subjects, 
forms and even whole environments, as though he alone had brought them about. Indeed, 
he has, and this is the essence of his seeing and the cornerstone of his photographic phi- 
losophy. "If you can really understand why you take the photograph, you don't do it. You 
do it for the margin of the unstated. . . . You hope to be able to come back to it— re-graze 
over it— and find a wider statement. You do it for the degree of accommodation that is not 
completed within it. Things don't fit together and thereby cancel each other out."^ ■ The 
Arizona landscapes date from 1941 onward. Without a horizon, these vast details of desert 
have no beginning and are without an end. The clumps of ground cover, mesquite and 
cactus, without any suggestion of man's having trod this way, are moving documents of 
what might be thought or as a surreal imagination . . . scores of grays melting into each 
other in a radical, compositionless image. Twice, six months apart, the artist made his 
way to Rich Hill, North East of Wickenberg, Arizona, prepared to take the first of these 
endless landscapes, and each time packed up and turned away without taking the picture. 
Finally on the third trek he made the photograph. The compositionlessness of the works 
may remind us that men in Seattle and in New York were venturing into similar edge-to- 
edge paintings at this time, unknowing of the experiments of their counterparts elsewhere. 
Today one talks of the cosmos suggested by the white writing of Tobey or the "all-over" 
and inimitable skein paintings of Pollock. Indeed all of these ideas are present and fruitful 
in the work of Frederick Sommer. "What is the importance of Duchamp, if not to tell us 
that the things that go on in painting can be done without painting," asks Sommer. ■ A 
sequel to the Arizona landscapes is the series of junkyard photographs, which also date 
from 1941. In beautifully crisp prints Sommer has recorded a totally valueless subject 
matter that has lost its identity in a homogeneous clutter echoing the compositional ideas 
of the landscapes ... an ocean of broken glass, discarded artifacts, a unique measure- 
ment of society ... an index to its values which has not gone unnoticed by the sociolo- 
gist-anthropologists of the present. These works remain prophetic photographs, purely 
pictorial— abstract and formal— before they are observational or reportorial. Lacking any 
literary, historical or anecdotal charge, they proclaim the possibility of a high art photog- 
raphy outside the ken of critics until this time. ■ In his photographic forays, Sommer found 
himself coming upon unpredictably attractive records of man's assault on the desert; a car 
door fantastically weathered and oxidized, wall paper separating from the wooden walls 
of a long abandoned desert house— stained and bleached by rain and sun— all become 
somehow an exotic parchment from a lost civilization. He kept these records for his own 
pleasure. There is nothing brutal in them, but they are all gentleness and sentiment in their 
sense of the relationships of all things. The found object idea of Dada took on a new 
meaning, with new colors, new textures, as whole new worlds seemed to open up to 
the artist. Combinations of these elements seemed to dictate themselves. Occasionally, 

Lee Nevin 1965 

Cut Paper 1967 

when posing a subject for a photo, Sommet would utilize a background texture from a 
found object wall-hanging or weathered wall. At other times he would simply accumulate 
the variety of pleasurable, useless objects which had captured his imagination; the dried 
paint-covered lid of a paint bucket, parts of children's toys dried out in the desert sun, a 
scrap of a billboard poster, a broken rear-view mirror, a melted puddle of metal, now con- 
gealed, anything, everything, both the world m a gram of sand and the Madonna visited 
by angels. ■ Like others in his generation of United States artists, Sommer was intrigued 
by the adventures of Surrealism, and perhaps because of his language skills and family 
identifications, felt closer to this movement than did many native artists. His meeting with 
Max Ernst served to reinforce this interest and his contacts with Europe and his wide- 
ranging reading in French, German and Italian gave him an awareness unusual in the 
United States of that day. He became even more aware of chance and the juxtaposition 
of unlikely or contradictory materials, and he studied his own work for levels of meaning 
not immediately accessible. He had always embraced spontaneity, having said, "I don't 
have to read the I Ching, everything is the I Ching." The Found Painting was a board 
the artist saw, part of a loading platform outside a Chinese grocery store in Prescott. He 
"found" it, just as did Marcel Duchamp find the bottle rack "ready-made." Sommer says, 
"What difference is there between what you find and what you make? You have to make 
it to find it. You have to find it to make it. You only find things that you already have in your 
mind." Sommer has found and recorded the perfect illustration of Leonardo's stained wail, 
with its capacity to excite the imagination to countless fulfillments on the surface and 
beneath it. It is a work of Surrealism as real and as valid as a painting by Max Ernst or 
Tanguy. It is Sommer's work even though his greatest effort was to secure the owner's 
agreement to have it exchanged for a new board. This was the sensitivity which made 
it possible to carry his work forward into more astonishing combinations. ■ "I know that 
photography has a way of handling some things well and I make more of these available 
than I could find in nature. If I could find them in nature, I would photograph them. I make 
them because through photography I have a knowledge of things that can't be found." 
This is the way that Fred Sommer talks about his collage or assemblage photographs and 
the tiny world he has built of these illusive, dramatic, allegorical images. He feels that any 
found object is a cluster of things and that it must be respected for what it is. "It is very 
important to accept all of the consequences of your moves." A particular found object 
may be incorporated in a work and somehow never succeed completely. It may then be set 
aside for future usage. "It is not where a and b fuse into one thing, but where a and b 
remain discrete but serve the common purpose, also, that I recognize success," is 
Sommer's conclusion. "It is when you have become the helpless observer of your own 
research that you have reached learning." ■ In a period dominated by the leadership of 
straight photographers of the caliber of Stieglitz, Weston, Strand and Adams, Sommer's 
experiments in assemblage, all-over composition, and found objects, seemed "unphoto- 
graphic" on any other level than that of technical competence in recording, and without 
an interpretive and expressive communication of its own. While Edward Steichen and 
Willard Van Dyke were recording their approval in exhibitions and reviews, most photo 
critics remained silent regarding Sommer's work. Minor White went to some lengths to 
point out that the problem of seeing Sommer's work as a serious contribution lay in super- 
ficial looking.- Henry Holmes Smith made an analysis of "The Sacred Wood" that is useful: 

■ In a world of disturbing images, the general body of photography is bland, dealing 
complacently with nature and treating our preconceptions as insights. Strange, private 
worlds rarely slip past our guard from this quarter. This is probably not very good for 
mankind; it is certainly unfortunate for photography. To set this right will take many pho- 
tographers who face the disturbing image, one of whom is Frederick Sommer. ■ Among 
other fascinating tasks, Sommer has elected to show us some things we may have over- 
looked, for example, that accident and chance may guide us to where we have been. 
Without affectation, that is directly, Sommer charges an ironic or absurd artifact (which I 
suspect he himself may have "accidentally" put together) with the force of an ancient 
idea that lies deeply hidden and nearly forgotten in everybody. ■ "The Sacred Wood" is 

to this point. Viewed from a distance, it is seen as a light-gray mottled rectangular area 
against which lie parts of a broken statuette that resembles an abused or discarded 
crucifix. A ridged dark gray area surrounds these forms. On closer inspection one sees 
the strange agglomeration of thin and thick materials spilled, dropped, daubed, slopped 
and hurled. The entire surface is richly textured with what seems to be deliberate or 
induced accidents. ■ The surface of the crucifix has been savagely attacked: only ragged- 
edged bits remain. Evidence of violence is everywhere; the "foot" at the left has been 
smashed and is without toes. The upper torso, dimly given in the form to the right of the 
central limbs, appears to be also the head of a horse with a bloody muzzle. The dark circle 
with the light outline at lower right may be either its eye or nostril. The rippling dark 
area, which arches above the lighter parts resembles a skin opened during a primitive 
dissection. ■ This is an image of surfaces and objects that have recently passed through 
an ordeal. Yet the agony and violence are contained with an embracing darkness which 
may be thought of as a form within which forms are enclosed. In short, accidents-become- 
artifacts, have been compounded into one intense image of remnants, mute witnesses of 
an agony. ■ Some persons will insist on asking, "what is it?" mainly I think, because this 
is a photograph and they will have come to expect a photograph to report to us faithfully, 
directly and in rather commonplace terms. To answer "spilled paint, plaster or powder, 
smashed putty and sprinkled sand," would be to attempt to deal with this image as a 
public report on an ordinary object. This would be to deal only with the most rudimentary 
and least important aspect of this reality as Sommer must think of it. ■ Nevertheless one 
may ask "what is if" whenever he is ready to see the tangible and inconsequential 
transformed into the intangible and consequential, which is a recurring miracle of art. 1 
see this central image as referring to the sanctity of violence (and the violence that the 
martyred and saintly have experienced in the service of their faith). A body has been 
ritually torn apart at the service of an ancient brutal faith; we see, as clearly as we can, 
the remains of a savage feast in a sacred place. (Frenzied women, no matter how deli- 
cately reared, when eating their god alive and uncooked, will likely make a mess.) We 
see the leftovers; the Wild Women have departed. Will they now descend and feast the 
crows, who were also sacred?^ 

Mr. Holmes appends quotations from Frazer's The Golden Bough and from Robert 
Graves' The Greek Myths, to footnote his comments. Such "extra-photographic" 
footnotes continue to disturb those viewers who tend to feel that everything one needs 
to know about the work should be carried in the work itself. It is, of course, a con- 
vention of "the new criticism" and much of so-called "formalist" art criticism today, 
to insist upon the object as object and to decry poetic, romantic, lyrical and sur- 
realist overtones. With Sommer this goes to the heart of the message and its mean- 
ing. A sensitive eye, more than casual, will find significance compressed into every 
area. While one need not be a classical scholar to enjoy his works, it would help to 
bring habits of close examination and free association. ■ In the years 1949 to 1952 
Sommer began to receive attention in exhibitions. In 1949 he held a one-man show of 
photographs and drawings at the Egan Gallery, New York. He was invited to show with 
four artists at the Museum of Modern Art in a show called Realism in Photography. In 
1950 he was featured in Photography at Mid-Century at the Los Angeles County Mu- 
seum. In 1951 several examples of his photography were included in Abstraction in 
Photography, again at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. He was a panel member 
at the Photography Conference held in Aspen, Colorado that year. In 1952, thirty-eight 
works were included in Diogenes with a Camera, at the Museum of Modern Art. ■ 
Willard Van Dyke wrote in 1951: ". . . but in the opinion of this reviewer, Frederick 
Sommer's prints have a technical brilliance unsurpassed by any other photographer. 
They are limited in subject material, and the aura of decay that lies around them is some- 
times disturbing but they have a kind of super-reality that one rarely sees in photos."'' 
It was a Sommer photograph of a wall c. 1951, that prompted Edward Steichen to say, 
"... a photo of a fragment of a wall by Frederick Sommer . . . represent(s) a reality . . . 
and convey(s) a feeling of immutable force and power that goes beyond the actual facts 

Jackrabbit 1939 

Smoke on Glass 1962 

of the photograph. (It) . . . originates in the perception and creative ability of a major 
American artist. "^ ■ Sommer's concern for photography did not destroy his satisfaction in 
drawing. For years after taking up a camera he had drawn in black on white paper and 
with colored inks on black papers. The influence of photographic thinking and processes 
was never ignored. Drawing, calligraphy, and musical notation have all been influences 
on Sommer's art and thinking and all have reinforced each other and served to broaden 
his knowledge and understanding of esthetic issues. ■ In 1950 Sommer was quoted as 
saying "Around 1936 I decided to go into photography to work on problems which had 
already interested me in painting, and which photography could advantageously handle. 
Photography is well adapted to work by the laws of chance. Poetic and speculative 
photographs can result if one works carefully and accurately, yet letting chance relation- 
ships have full play."'^ Sommer's earliest insight was the complete objectivity of his camera- 
tool. He accepted nature the way it was. He next learned to make himself sensitive to 
the found object, which opened up his art even further. In the middle forties he came to 
assemble his found objects into tiny systems in a manner which can now be seen as 
analagous to the work of Joseph Cornell. In the middle fifties Sommer pushed on into 
making prints without the use of the camera. This idea had been pioneered by Man Ray 
and followed by Moholy Nagy in the Rayographs and photograms, but Sommer found 
no contradiction in using paint on cellophane to make an abstract, wholly invented image, 
which could then be thrown on sensitized paper to produce a print that was essentially 
photographic in its properties. The opacity of the oil, under surface tension, manipulated 
by a tool which was in turn protected from contact with the pigment by the textureless 
cellophane, produced an image which when suspended between two plates of glass 
could be placed in an enlarger and used as a "negative." ■ The paint body constitutes 
the readable image; its opacity and sense of motion, its fatness and leanness of pigment 
and record of the artist's tool, its irregularity of edge outlined against the totally black 
background (the unpainted area) establishes the visual event. In works like Paracelsus 
the image conveys a sculpture-like solidity and a burnished preciosity as though it were 
a photo of the armored fighting suit of an Alexander. That the work is the product of a 
non-camera negative seems as unlikely as did Man Ray's first Rayographs or as hallu- 
cinatory as the hand-painted dream imagery of the young Dali. ■ In the period of 1958- 
1961 much of Sommer's experimentation was directed toward the capturing of candle 
smoke on grease-coated cellophane. Again the material— grease colored with smoke- 
was manipulated through the reverse of the cellophane by a stylus, and the imagery is 
greatly affected by the artist's drawing skills The range of grays and the variety of tex- 
tures is attributable to the photographic process, to the accidents of manipulation of the 
colored grease and the chance properties of the candle smoke coloring. The artist's 
selection of placement and his exploitation of the enlarger's lens must be considered. 
Nonetheless the mystery and poetry of the work establishes a fantasy similar to the sur- 
realist experiments with fumage, rubbings, and frottage. All of Sommer's work can be seen 
in the smokes— the space of his collages, the textures and effects of the wall papers, his 
drawing devices and his sense of composition. ■ Since 1962 Sommer has made nega- 
tives by means of smoke transferred to glass. In this process he draws on a piece of 
aluminum foil, making a relief pattern of linear elements. He then smokes the drawing 
side of the foil with a candle and transfers the drawing and the smoke deposit to a 
grease-sensitized glass, which becomes the negative in the enlarger. He is also known 
to prepare a tambourine of cellophane between embroidery hoops, heat the cellophane 
and then draw on the cellophane with a sharp pencil over a smoked glass surface. The 
cellophane tambourine is depressed sufficiently to pick up a soot deposit wherever the 
pencil travels but it snaps back to avoid any other image. The deposited soot depends 
upon the visual vocabulary of the draftsman, but the rich variety of grays and the textural 
richness of the finished work relates directly to the grease transfer and the accident of 
fat and lean in soot deposit and the grease vehicle, and all of this, of course, is a 
medium and the artist's exploration of it. ■ In the 1960s Sommers' work has splintered 
into a number of new directions, none of which has been thoroughly explored and of 
course all of the earlier experiments have untold possibilities as well. In 1960 he traveled 

in Europe for three months, working with the camera and visiting museums. The expos- 
ures taken in the Italian museums of neo-classic and baroque sculpture are unusual in 
all photography. In these works the artist prepared his instrument for a sharp focus, straight 
photograph, but then intentionally moved the camera violently at the moment of exposure. 
The resulting prints are memorable, possessing a sense of awakened motion on the 
sculptures' part with a blurring and soft-focus result that suggests that the viewer may 
be mistaken in believing this to be a sculpture, perhaps it is a human figure in motion. 
The light is soft and despite the figurative content, the prints are characteristically 
Sommer's for their negative space, their placement in the photo rectangle and the im- 
position of his textural blurring. ■ Upon returning to the Prescott area, the artist resumed 
his work, printed his European film and continued his experiments with smoke on cello- 
phane and glass. In the process of making photographs of a dancer in 1962, Sommer 
was asked to provide wrapping paper for the dancer. These photographs are less inter- 
esting for themselves than for the possibilities they opened up for Sommer. He was sur- 
prised by the ways in which the paper took light, reflected it, crinkled, crumpled and 
twisted, providing a wonderful range of grays suggesting new possibilities which he 
began to explore. If one can make negatives without a camera, why not make new sub- 
jects for the camera? After a number of experiments, Sommer laid a sheet of tan wrap- 
ping paper, perhaps four by five feet in dimension (September 1962), upon a masonite 
sheet and drew swiftly on the paper with a razor-blade knife. The whole operation of 
drawing-cutting, beginning at the top of the vertical sheet and moving swiftly to articu- 
late every section of the picture space, takes only a minute or two. The linear cuts are 
decisive, there is no time to think of what next to do, the blade repeats a form, doubles- 
back, completes an untouched area, but keeps moving. When the "drawing" is com- 
pleted, the artist hangs it by spring clips hung from the ceiling, a few feet from the wall 
of his work room. Some of the cuts have come close to separating an oval shape of 
paper from the sheet. Such ovals will tend to curl out of the sheet, shaping themselves 
into a relief of unexpected forms. In other cases arabesque-like drawing cuts have led the 
sheet to distort into discrete planes, touching here, separating there, creating shadows 
and new grays. ■ The first cut-paper drawing of a session is rarely worth being photo- 
graphed. The second or third may prove exciting. Of course no corrections can be made 
in this decisive process, but occasionally the artist may make a few additions, capitaliz- 
ing upon the possibilities suggested by his automatic drawing. He may sense a formal 
relationship in a cut-paper drawing which reminds him of specific works or schools. 
Realizing that he may have specific images on his mind, the artist will select a book 
at random from his nearby book cases and quickly leaf through it to find an eye-catching 
work. Having chosen a history of Greek coins, or a monograph on Polynesian sculpture, 
he studies the selected photograph with avid interest. With his mind now also occupied 
with the idea of another work of art, he returns to his own work without the concern 
that he may repeat the previous cut-paper image. He sharpens his blade and begins to 
draw with vigor and speed. There are no preconceptions. He does not "try to make a 
good one." Automatically, faster than his mind can edit, he has shaped another sheet. 
He hangs it freely, analyzes it as though it were a work by someone else. After a few 
minutes' contemplation, Sommer may say, "This may have something . . . I'll save it." He 
cuts another sheet and sharpens his knife for another drawing discovery. ■ The most 
recent work in photography has been sharp focus recording of folded paper reproduc- 
tions of the wood engravings of Albrecht Durer. The artist selected prints for usage from 
the Willi Kurth paperback. He then folded the prints to emphasize the verticality of the 
imagery, concentrating the forms into a compressed prospective space, suggesting whole 
figures from the detail retained in each arbitrary vertical folded panel. For example, Durer 
Variation Number Two, 1966, utilizes three separate Durer prints for a triptych-like com- 
position with a crowd scene on the left, all figures looking to the left, balanced with a mili- 
tary movement on the right with all figures facing the right, in both cases looking out of the 
picture space. The central area is set apart with two praying figures and a holy, haloed 
figure in tension facing in different directions. The print has a silvery quality and a sharp 
focus precision that transcends the materials from which the print was taken. It is con- 

Flower and Frog 1947-48 


Eight Young Roosters 1938 

Photograph 1960 

Untitled 1965 

Arizona Landscape 1944 

founding to find tliat this was made withi pulp-paper reproductions and not tine original 
16th century wood engravings themselves. Sommer's transformation of the pulp into silver, 
the various subject matters into a new and coherent one, the verticality of Renaissance 
art into a new 20th century cubist distortion, and the triptych idea into a simultaneous 
exposition of events, as in (1) exposition of a threat or problem, (2) overseeing a council 
between the protagonists, and (3) a military movement to redress the problem, is wholly 
successful. It is much the same as if Bach were to compose an homage to Vivaldi on 
themes of the earlier master, or as if Goethe should write an adaptation of Shakespeare 
for contemporary audiences. It is both a vigorous reaffirmation of the validity of the earlier 
art and a powerful new setting for the continuity of art and its themes. ■ Frederick 
Sommer is devoted to music, as a close listener and student of music history. Being 
strongly rooted in visual materials he has sought out the scores of masters who interest 
him strongly. He has delved into musical notation in order to understand its development. 
The notation of polyphonic music in the middle ages has proved specially interesting and 
invigorating to him. New directions in musical notation by the avant garde musicians from 
Satie to the newer Europeans, have been studied and some rather sharp insights have 
been gained by the photographer. Sommer is convinced that the great musicians develop 
a vigorous calligraphy and a musical notation that sets them apart from their contem- 
poraries. Again, he suggests that there is an inter-relation between the concept of the 
work and its notation, between the originality of the music and the graphic appearance 
of the notation as set out by the musician. It is only a step from this to the notion that 
it might be possible to make an original "graphic music" system and ask musicians to 
improvise on the notation. Working with a gifted pianist and his colleague, a professional 
flutist, Sommer has carried this project into the concert hall in the spring of 1968 at Pres- 
cott College. ■ For many years Frederick Sommer has done what he calls skipreading. 
He improvises freely, from any book at random, but he finds philosophy and the classics, 
Plato, Shakespeare and Joyce, especially fruitful springboards for this technique. He 
reads down the page, aloud, reading words which jump out at him. The flowing sen- 
tences and the rational linear logic of the words so read is astonishing. Sommer feels 
that the reading reflects the writers' concerns almost as surely as does the conventional 
way of reading. Just as he feels about found object art and assemblage; "You can't say 
what you don't know ... the words you choose are pushed around until you find what 
you know." This is what he feels he is doing with his skipreading— rephrasing the writer 
to discover what other truths were hiding in his text, whether known to the writer or not. 
His Durer Variations are visual extrapolations from the same rationale. ■ In the last two 
school years, 1966-67 and 1967-68, Sommer has taken on the responsibility of Coordi- 
nator of Fine Art Studies at Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona. It is an opportunity to 
work for an effective integration of art into the college curriculum so that art can be a 
part of the concern and experience of every student. It is hoped that this will become 
possible through the clarification of the relationship of the arts to other disciplines. Som- 
mer is uniquely qualified for this responsibility by his training and inclinations in archi- 
tecture, drawing, painting and photography, poetry and music. He has had the leisure to 
find the inter-relationships between the arts and to reflect the ways in which art and 
science deal with form as structure. He has been particularly focused in recent months 
upon the common goals and shared concepts of art and science. In 1967 he wrote: 

Ethics + Art = Aesthetics ■ Culture in its finest moments celebrates this relationship as 
a way of life. ■ Religion and Philosophy are Ethics and with Art or Science become 
Aesthetics. ■ Art and Science are noble conditions of technique when value is dignity 
of means. 

Speaking on the same subject, but focusing on the great American pioneer Dada and 
Surrealist, Man Ray, Sommer said recently, "Man Ray was not primarily a photographer 
or a painter but really a pioneer in the inter-relationships between the arts." Even Man 
Ray would probably agree, inasmuch as he has explained since 1920 that he only adopted 
photography to get good likenesses of his paintings. His experiments in film, print, books, 

lax Ernst 1! 

Gold Mine— Arizona 1943 

object making and sculpture, in addition to painting and collage, were bent more on 
discovering the boundaries of art than in seeking to make masterpieces. ■ Again, 
Sommer has said that religious societies and aesthetic societies tend to succeed each 
other. The high Italian renaissance was an aesthetic society and Sommer feels that this 
society of the late sixties is also moving toward an aesthetic epoch where the relationships 
between art and life will be explored more fully. Photography may well be the meeting 
place between science and art and the fulcrum around which the integration and inter- 
relatedness of disciplines may be studied. Photography cannot subtract itself from the 
concerns of art and in the widest sense its function in the society. Aesthetics is the all- 
embracing study that can take society into the ivory tower once thought to be reserved 
for art alone. 

Gerald Nordland, Director of the San Francisco Museum of Art 


1. All unattributed quotations are from conversations with the writer, 2. "Collages of 
Found Objects" Aperture, vol. IV, no. 3, 1956, pp. 103-117. 3. Ibid. 4. Van Dyke, Wil- 
lard. Bibliography #20. 5. "Abstract Photography— A Vital Question," Photo Arts, Octo- 
ber 1951, p. 14. 6. U.S. Camera Annual, 1950, p. 292. 7. Aperture, vol. XIII, no. 3, 
1967, p. 2. 


Abstract Photography— a Vital Question, in Photo Arts, October 1951, pp. 6-23. ■ Barr, 
Alfred H., Jr., ed. Masters of IVIodern Art. N.Y. Museum of Modern Art, 1954. p. 197, 
ill. ■ "Collages of Found Objects/Six Photographs by Frederick Sommer" with comments 
by Henry Holmes Smith, George Wright, and others. "A Note on the Working Methods of 
Frederick Sommer." Aperture, vol. IV, no. 3 1956, pp. 103-117. (Cover photo) ■ Diogenes 
with a Camera, in Photo Arts, Sept. 1962, p. 278. ■ Doty, Robert M. Photography in 
America 1850-1965. New Haven, Yale University Art Gallery. Exh.: 13 Oct. -28 Nov., 1965. 
Cat nos 102-104, reprod. ■ Exhibition of Contemporary Photography — Japan and 
America. Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art. Exh.: 29 Aug.— 4 Oct., 1953. Reprod. 

■ An Experiment in "Reading" Photographs, in Aperture, vol. V, no 2, 1957, pp. 57-61, 
ill. Comments by Rochester Institute students on a photograph by Sommer with a short 
statement by the artist. ■ Frederick Sommer, 1939-1962 Photographs. Aperture, vol. X, 
no. 4, 1962. 31 ill. Special number constituting a monograph on the artist, with his poetry. 

■ Frederick Sommer: an Exhibition of Photographs. Washington, DC Washington 
Gallery of Modern Art. 1965. Comments by Gerald Nordland, ill. ■ International Akt 
Photos. 1965. (publication of the International Foto Salon, Munich.) Comment by Dr. Tas 
Toth. ■ Photography 64/ An Invitational Exhibition. Rochester, N.Y. State Exposition and 
the George Eastman House, 1964. pp. 29, 44, ill. ■ Photography at the Museum of Modern 
Art, in M.O.M.A. Bulletin, vol. XIX, no. 4, 1952, p. 14, ill. ■ The Sense of Abstraction, in 
Aperture, vol. VIII, no. 2, 1960, p. 106 and cover ill. ■ Six Photographers 1967. tJrbana, 
111., Univ. of Illinois, College of Fine and Applied Art, 1967, pp. 12-13. Catalog for an ex- 
hibition of ten photographs by each of six photographers. ■ Smith, Henry Holmes. "Pho- 
tography in our time: a note on some prospects for the seventh decade." Three Photog- 
raphers, Kalamazoo Art Center Bulletin, no. 2, 1966. ■ Soby, James Thrall. Yves Tanguy. 
N.Y,, Museum of Modern Art, 1955. p. 20, ill. ■ Sommer, Frederick, Aperture, vol. Xlll, no. 
3, 1967, p. 2 and cover. ■ Three Photographers: Wynn Bullock, Edmund Teske, Frederick 
Sommer. San Fernando Valley State College, 1967. 16 p., 4 reprod. and biography. ■ U.S. 
Camera Annual. 1950. p. 292, note and 2 ill. 1953. p. 168, ill. ■ Van Dyke, Willard. "Pres- 
entation: a whale of a difference " In American Society of Magazine Photographers 
News, 1951, pp. 4-5. ■ The West. Colorado Springs, Colo., Colorado Springs Fine Arts 
Center, 1953. A portfolio. ■ Williams, Jonathan. "The eyes of three phantasts: Laughlin, 
Sommer, Bullock." In Aperture, vol. IX, no. 3, 1961. pp. 96-123. Six photos by Sommer, 
pp. 106-113. ■ Wyss, Dieter. Der Surrealismus, Heidelberg, Schneider, 1950. pp. 83- 
84, pi. 14. 


1905 (Sept. 7) Born in Angri, Italy, to German father, and Swiss mother. 1913 Family 
moved to Brazil. Raised in Rio de Janeiro. 1916 Began doing architectural drafting for 
father's architectural office. 1921 Won second prize in a contest among Brazilian architects. 
1923 Designed a garden in Rio de Janeiro, now considered one of the outstanding in the 
city. 1925 To United States and Cornell University. 1927 M.A. in landscape architecture, 
Cornell University. 1927-30 Practiced landscape architecture and city planning in Rio and 
other Brazilian cities. 1928 iVlarried Frances Watson. 1930-1 Italy and Switzerland; winter 
in Arosa, recovering from tuberculosis. 1931 France and Italy, studying art and architec- 
ture and Italian gardens. (November, to Tucson, Arizona to recover from TB. Returns to 
painting and drawing.) 1933 Visited Chicago. 1934 One-man exhibition. Increase Rob- 
inson Gallery (summer) of watercolors (Chicago, Illinois). Six months in Los Angeles. 
First interest in musical graphics. 1935 February, to Prescott, Arizona, to live, continues 
painting and drawing. November, visit to New York. Meets Stieglitz and spends one week 
with him. Renewed interest in photography. 1936 Meets Edward Weston in California. 
1937 One-man show with Howard Putzel Gallery, Hollywood, 1937. 1938 First 8x10 
photos. 1939 First musical scores. 1940 (August-September) to New York. Meets Charles 
Sheeler. 1941 Meets Max Ernst. Makes first photos of Arizona landscapes and junkyards. 
1944 (September-November) in New York. 1946 One-man show of photographs, Santa 
Barbara Museum of Art. 1949 One-man show, Egan Gallery, New York. (Photos and draw- 
ings) Realism In Photography, 4 man show with Ralph Steiner, Wayne Miller, Tosh Mat- 
sumoto. (16 prints by Sommer), at Museum of Modern Art, New York; Executes first glass 
print. 1950 Photography at Mid-Century. Los Angeles County Museum, Los Angeles. 
1951 Abstraction in Photography, several examples by Sommer included in Museum of 
Modern Art exhibition. Attended Design Conference, Aspen, Colorado. 1952 Diogenes 
with a Camera, 38 works including actual objects and backgrounds used in the mak- 
ing of photos. Museum of Modern Art, New York. 1953 Contemporary Photography, 
Natural Museum of Art, Tokyo; The West, Portofolio published by Colorado Springs. 
1954 Visit to Mexico 1956 Work included in Contemporary American Photography, 
Musee d'Art Moderne, Paris. 1957 One-man show of paintings, drawings, and photos at 
Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology, Chicago, Illinois. Taught photography 
at I.D., during 1957-8 school year. The bulk of the artist's paint on cellophane works were 
accomplished by this year. 1960 To Europe for three months, working and traveling. 1961 
The Sense of Abstraction, several photos included Museum of Modern Art, New York. 
Smokes on cellophane are executed. 1962 Fifty Great Photographs from the Museum 
Collection, Museum of Modern Art, New York Aperture monograph— "Frederick Sommer, 
1939-1962." Photographs, vol. 10, no. 4. Smoke on glass works are executed. 1963 One- 
man show of photographs. Art Institute of Chicago. 1964 Four-man photography show: 
Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland. (With Philip Hyde, Brett Weston, and Minor White.) 
1965 One-man show of photographs, drawings and objects. Washington Gallery of Mod- 
ern Art, Washington, D.C. Show traveled to the Pasadena Art Museum, Pasadena, Cali- 
fornia. 1966-present Coordinator of Fine Art Studies, Prescott College, Prescott, Arizona. 
1967 Six Photographers, University of Illinois, Urbana, Illinois. One-man show, Museum 
of Northern Arizona, Flagstaff. Taught summer Photo Workshop, San Francisco Art Insti- 
tute, San Francisco. 

Emerson Woelfer 1965 

Photographs in the Exhibition 

1. Eight Young Roosters 1938 iy2 x gVa 2. Jackrabbit 1939 8x10 3. Chicken 
1939 8x10 4. Coyotes 1941 IV2 x 91/2 5. Horse 1942 8 x 10 6. Dump 1942 
8 X 10 7. Constellation, Arizona 1943 8 xlO 8. Gold Mine, Arizona 1943 8x10 9. 
Photograph 1943 8 x 10 10. Arizona Landscape. 1943 IVz x%V2 11. Glass 1943 
71/2 x9y2 12. Frances 1943 ZVaxgys 13. Little Colorado River 1943 71/2x91/2 
14. Arizona Landscape 1943 71/2 x 91/2 15. Artificial Leg 1944 71/2 x 9V2 16. Ari- 
zona Landscape 1944 IV2 x 91/2 17. Photograph 1944 8x10 18. Mayer, Arizona 

1945 71/2 X 91/2 19. Taylor, Arizona 1945 71/2 x 91/2 20. Coyote 1945 71/2 x 91/2 
21. Arizona Landscape. 1945 71/2 x 91/2 22. The Furies 1946 IV2 x 9V2 23. Giant 

1946 71/2 x 91/2 24. Max Ernst 1946 8x10 25. Max Ernst 1946 8x10 26. Utah 

1947 8 x 10 27. I Adore You 1947 71/2 x 91/2 28. Arizona Landscape 1947 8x10 
29. Flowers & Frog 1947-48 7^/2 x 91/2 30. Arminda 1948 IV2 x 91/2 31. Moon 
Culmination 1948 8x10 32. Valise D'Adam 1949 71/2 x 91/2 33. Venus, Jupiter, 
Mars 1949 71/2x91/2 34. Prince Albert 1949 71/2x91/2 35. The Milky Way 1949 
71/2 x 91/2 36. Found Painting 1949 91/2 x 5 37. Photograph 1950 5 x 8 38. Pres- 
cott Caviar 1950 8 x 10 39. Photograph 1950 8 x 10 40. Photograph 1950 8x10 
41. Wall 1951 71/2 x 91/2 42. Young Explorer 1951 41/8 x 81/2 43. Idee et (Orchides) 
1951 8 X 10 44. Fighting Centaur 1952 71/2 x 972 45. Mexican Bather 1952 71/2 
x 91/2 46. Nogales, Mexico 1952 81/2 x 123/4 47. Judgment of Solomon 1952 8x10 
48. Photograph 8 x 10 49. Young Explorer II 1954 .^71/2 x 91/2 50. Mazatlan 1954 
113/4 X 73/4 51. Coyotes 1954 8x10 52. The Thief Greater than his Loot 1955 5 x 
8 53. Baby Talk 1955 8x10 54. Paint on Cellophane 1957 IO1/2 x I31/4 55. Paint 
on Cellophane 1957 11 x 14 56. Paint on Cellophane #1 1957 16x20 57. Paint on 
Cellophane #2 1957 16 x 20 58. Paint on Cellophane ^3 1957 16 x 20 59.Paint 
on Cellophane #4 1957 16 x 20 60. Cellophane Paint* 1958 1074 x 1 31/4 61. Para- 
celsus.* 1959 101/4 x 131/4 62. Victoria & Albert Museum 1960 8 x 12 63. Gallerie 
Borghese 1960 71/4 x 11 64. Capitolino Museum I960 71/2 x ^^V^ 65. Ponte St. 
Angelo 1960 71/2 x 1 1 1/4 66. Photograph 1960 71/2 x 11 67. Lee Nevin 1960 63/4 
X 10 68. Figure 1960 11 x 14 69. Figure 1960 11 x 14 70. Paint on Cellophane* 

1960 10 X 131/4 71. Untitled* 1960 9 x 131/2 72. Untitled* 1961 9 x 131/4 73. Figure 

1961 11 x 14 74. The Golden Apples* 1961 I31/4 x 1074 75. Adrian's Villa* 1961 
131/4 X 101/2 76. Paint on Cellophane* 1961 1074 x 131/4 77. Untitled* 1962 83/4 x 
131/4 78.Untitled 1962 1 1 x 14 79. Figure 1962 11x14 80. Figure 1962 11x14 
81. Figure 1962 11 x 14 82. Figure 1962 11 x 14 83. Untitled* 1962 83/4 x 131/4 
84. Untitled* 1962 33/4 x 131/4 85. Smoke on Glass* 1962 IO1/2 x 131/4 86. Smoke 
on Glass 1963 131/4 x IO1/2 87. Cut Paper 1963 9 x I31/4 88. Cut Paper 1963 
33/4 X 131/4 89. Lee Nevin 1963 9 x ^Vk 90. Untitled* 1963 83/4 x I31/4 91. Paint 
on Cellophane* 1963 1074 x 131/4 92. Paint on Cellophane* 1963 IO1/2 x 131/4 93. 
Untitled* 1963 33/4 x 13 94. Untitled* 1963 83/4 x 131/4 95. Untitled* 1963 83/4 x 
131/4 96. Untitled* 1963 83/4 x I31/4 97. Untitled* 1963 9 x 1374 98. Untitled* 1963 
33/4x131/4 99. Heraclitus 1964 I31/4 xlOi/2 100. Cut Paper 1964 11 x 14 101. 
Samothrace* 1964 IO1/2XI31/4 102. Smoke on Glass 1965 1374x101/2 103. Smoke 
on Glass 1965 1374 x IO1/2 104. Smoke on Glass 1965 81/2 x 13 105. Figure & 
Paper 1965 974 x 1374 106. Figure & Paper 1965 9 x 1374 107. Portrait 1965 
33/4 X 131/4 108. Lee Levin 1965 1072 x 1374 109. Emerson Woelfer 1965 872 x 
13 110. Cut Paper and Photograph 1965 11 x 14 111. Print from Smoke Negative 

1965 11 X 14 112. Print from Smoke Negative 1965 11 x 14 113. Print from Smoke 
Negative 1965 11 x 14 114. Paint on Cellophane* 1965 1072 x 1374 115. Paint on 
Cellophane* 1965 1074 x 1374 116. Cut Paper* 1965 83/4 x 1374 117. Paint on Cel- 
lophane* 1965 1074x1374 118. Untitled*1965 83/4x1374 119. Untitled* 1965 83/4 
X 131/4 120. Untitled* 1965 9 x 1374 121. Durer Variations 1966 772 x 972 122. 
Virgin & Child w/ St. Anne and the Infant St. John 1966 7x972 123. Durer Variation #1 

1966 11 x 14 124. Cut Paper 1967 10 x 1374 125. Cut Paper 1967 1072 x 1374 
126. Cut Paper 1967 10 x 13 127. Centaur 1968 11x14 

*From the collection of The Pasadena Art Museum 

Young Explorer II 1954 


Catalog prepared at Philadelphia College of Art, Broad & Pine Streets, Philadelphia 
■ Design/Richard Hood ■ Typography/Cypher Press ■ Printing/Falcon Press 

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